Number of Kenyans Abroad Soars to 3 Million

From a few thousands scattered across the globe but mainly in North America and the United Kingdom, the number of Kenyans in the diaspora has exponentially grown in the last two decades to today’s three million, about nine per cent of the country’s population.

But the importance of this community is not only in the numbers but they have come to wield so much economic power that their remittances have hit the Sh160 billion mark annually, according to a World Bank report: Future of Africa Remittances Program released in October last year, earning them the distinction of being ranked the country’s fourth highest foreign exchange earner after tea, horticulture and tourism.

Kenyans living abroad mainly send money home to help their families and for investment in various sectors, including real estate.

In July alone, remittances to Kenya jumped by 44 per cent from the same month a year ago to $72.8 million (about Sh6.9 billion).

Recognising this economic muscle, the government has set its eyes on the fast rising proceeds from the diaspora as it sought to maximise returns from its newly floated Sh20 billion infrastructure bond.

In the new global trend, bonds are said to tap into this new economic frontier beyond the usual handouts — sending money home to pay for school fees and taking care of medical expenses (remittances) — and playing an active part in investing in one’s homeland, funding development of bridges, schools and other enterprises.

Analysts believe that because people in the diaspora have more ties to the land and more access to information, they will be better able to invest in and contribute sustainably to development efforts.

Israel and India have been reported to have profited tremendously from such bond schemes.

The Central Bank said proceeds from the bond would go towards partial funding of specific infrastructure projects in a raft of sectors including roads (Sh7.36 billion), energy (Sh18.78 billion) and water (Sh9.71 billion).

It said Kenyans in the diaspora would be allowed to take part in tap sales of the bond after the auction date next month.

“The bond may be available for tap sales to retail local and Kenyan diaspora investors after the auction and offer amounts will be re-priced at the successful weighted average rate of the main auction adjusted for the remaining time to maturity.

The tap sale period will close on February 3, 2012,” the bank said in a statement.

On the political scene, Kenyans abroad pushed for the inclusion of dual citizenship in the new Constitution as well as being allowed to take part in elections, a move which will transform the political environment of the country.

Now for the first time in Kenya’s history, citizens living abroad are set to vote in the elections next year, a move that has been made possible by a transformational constitution endorsed by Kenyans in August last year.

The new law will also allow Kenyans, including those holding dual citizenship, to seek elective positions.

Section 38 (3) of the Bill of Rights grants every adult citizen the right to vote and Article 82 (1) (e) allows for progressive registration of citizens abroad and progressive realisation of the right.

Kenyans in the diaspora had in the past complained that they were disenfranchised when it came to having a say in national issues and elections owing to their inability to vote.

These reservations constantly surfaced whenever government delegations meet them in their countries of abode.

Interim Independent Electoral Commission chief executive James Oswago told the Saturday Nation that the issue was emotive and the government was exploring various models in preparations to fulfil the constitutional provision.

He said the biggest challenge was that there were no registers of Kenyans abroad in the embassies and that the exact numbers and location were unknown.

“We have asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help us in mapping out the various countries and areas where Kenyans abroad are concentrated. We are also posting questionnaires on our website to gather this information,” he said.

He recently visited the UK to learn their system while some of his officers are studying the South African and Australian models.

Mr Oswago said there was need to ensure that the system to be adopted was efficient and cost-effective.

He said the cost would be enormous but having Kenyans vote in embassies and state properties would reduce it to about Sh1 billion.

A source at the commission downplayed the number of Kenyans abroad who will participate in next year’s election, saying the “logistics were imponderable.”

“I know for example that the number of Kenyans in South Sudan alone can be 100,000. But because of the poor infrastructure, it would be difficult to reach any significant number,” said the source.

Source: Daily Nation

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